Naeem Ahmed Qazi, a development consultant for national and foreign institutions and primarily an educationist, has reminded Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi of his past when he played cricket with a straight bat. In an acid-tongue opinion piece indicting the new government for surrender to the religious extremists – Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan- in Roznama Pakistan, a leading Urdu daily, Qazi wrote in an agonised tone indicting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led federal government for soft stance towards TLP despite the three-day violent protests against the verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 31 October acquitting Pakistani Christian Aasiya Noreen – Asia Bibi – in a blasphemy case that kept her in death row for eight years. For nearly three days the main cities had screeched to a halt. The nation helplessly witnessed inhumane, brutal and shocking scenes during the lockdown – a murky mobocracy “looting the poorest while in others the rich had to witness their vehicles destroyed by a mob apparently chanting the slogans of Islam”.
True, the Khan’s televised speech to the nation on the day the apex judiciary delivered the verdict was in a way historic as he warned extremists not to challenge the state, but Qazi had reasons to be peeved at the appeasing condescension of the government that made TLP make truce with a five-point agreement. Qazi wrote, “Spectators, mere spectators were the institutions and parliament while citizens had to face the rage of religious extremists throughout the country. Pakistan was taken over by an organized radical group within two hours of the announcement of the judgement acquitting Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by Session Court and then by the High Court and was behind the bars since 2009 on blasphemy charges.
Motorways were blocked; markets and fuel stations were shut. Above all, almost all the educational institutions had to suspend the learning process across the country. Only fear prevailed among the masses: fear of death, anarchy, civil war, looters and riots. But the most devastating part of this horrific episode was fear of being labelled as a ‘kafir’. There was no exaggeration in it. Khan can’t commute between Asia Bibi and Political Islam. Otherwise, Shireen Mazari, Minister for Human Rights, would not have taken to Twitter taking aim at her own party “It is unfortunate we don’t study history – appeasement historically never works as Chamberlain’s Munich appeasement towards Nazis showed”.
Mazari’s dissent is attuned to the politico-economic reality, faced by the policy-framers as the warm-up of the extremists is ephemeral although there is a contra-apprehension as globally Political Islam is stronger than what the Islamic extremists were at the time of 9/11 and around. There is paranoia among Pakistani extremists that Islam is under threat and the misperception that foreign pressure protects those who commit blasphemy. Yet very sparingly few Pakistanis share this paranoid extremist outlook, let alone over a billion of Muslims the world over, although Pakistani extremists see the Bibi case as one of the grand decisive intellectual battles for Islam. Actually, it was an intra-group brawl among the low-educated house cleaners that morphed into a blasphemy case, possibly due to the Christian identity.
Sadly as also shamefully, Pakistanis living in Muslim countries are ridiculed for the fostered culture of extremism and petty religious debates thereof. The stability that the state has to bank upon when other Muslim destinations such as the UAE, Malaysia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been refashioning themselves as new Muslim models is fractured. Little wonder, investors of the USA and the Middle East are apathetic towards Pakistan, with the tendency to cancel trips to Pakistan. This is a wake-up call for the civil and military leadership. The possibility of legal action against TLP for restoring the image of custodians of law and order is looming large. The high-powered National Security Committee chaired by the PM and attended by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Finance Minister Asad Umar, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Khan Afridi, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Zubair Mahmood Hayat and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa assured that “progress and prosperity of Pakistan lies in peace, stability and rule of law.” Observers believe that the NSC’s emphasis on the rule of law suggests the government might be contemplating some legal action against the TLP and its leaders.
Within hours of the NSC meeting, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar also took notice of the “huge losses of property and lives caused to general public by riots and mobs”. However, civil rights functionaries who have been vocal against the ‘dangerously flawed ‘ lower court verdict are happy with the signs of disavowal in favour of Asia Bibi, whose name ‘will not be put on the Exit Control List, until proven guilty’, assured Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi in an interview with the Voice of America on Wednesday..
But there is no room for assured safety of not only Asia Bibi but her lawyer Saif-ul-Malook too. He told Al Jazeera that he had to flee to the Netherlands due to threats to his life. The Pakistani law makes it clear ‘if a person is involved in a criminal case, or tax fraud or [other] fraud, only then can the government put them on the Exit Control List,’ He was addressing the media in the Dutch capital Amsterdam a few days back. (IPA Service)